Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The Silencing powers of Spectacle: A State Sonata
This is not a descriptive essay, merely a speculative one, an essay that attempts to creatively deconstruct the givens of ritual performance, suggesting the hidden ideologies that bear significance on Singaporean Govermental-ity (Foucault). This is an essay that is yet to be written, but is contained in abstract form as such. The excessess of Spectacle is a well-studied one (Debord), and the yearly Singaporean Spectacle - a highly ordered ritual tampering of cathartic energies - should, by no means, be spared analysis. Every year, the nation tunes in either on TV or at a predetermined location to participate in the festive ritual of National Day. Of particular significance is the temporal ordering of events for National Day, a propagandistic tool that reproduces a formal structure year after year in the Sonata Form.
First, the exposition articulates a hypermasculine aesthetic, represented through the contingence of State Power: the Armed Forces. Simultaneously touted as the chief means by which "internal" security is managed and maintained (at what expense?), uniformity, rigor and the sacrifice of individuality (the sacrifice of individual to State for an ideology of the collective) is stressed, ex-pressed as a macho spectacle of dominance, and protection (which functions as presented negative). The Second Subject introduces the second-ary, namely the collective individualities themselves in a flamboyent display of Nationalized individuality. This too, is seized and absorbed under the umbrella of National discourse, such that individualities are re-produced as signifying archetypes. Development - struggle between the (already repressed) representation of archetypal individuality and dominant aggression - usually the military is called on to "perform" along with other constituencies. In doing so, hypermasculine modes of identification (first seen with uniforms) are vagarized by demeaning the soldier to the level of the performer, usually decking him out in "costume". The hypermasculine is emasculated, so to speak, the soldier on the performance tarpaulin is not one performing his excessive gender, but one who is forced to perform in drag.
Thirdly, Recapitulation. But here, recapitulation does not take the form of the domination over masculine/feminine appropriations. Rather, recapitulation articulates itself as a third component of the ideological triangle: multicultural (albeit plural) egalitarianism, symbolized by the harmonious integration of both Repressive State Apparatus and Expressive State Apparatus sharing the common performance tarpaulin. Here, military contingents reappropriated in uniform stand shoulder to shoulder (but not mingle!) with other contingent performers, enounciating the need for radical tolerence, although only a tolerence tolerable by keeping differences distinct both spatially and ideologically. Last, Coda, fireworks, but first - the medley of National Songs. "Count on me Singapore", "This is my country", "We Are Singapore", first seperate entities, then, in counterpoint. The bedazzled spectator ascribes to the power of voice, but disciplined voice. Nonetheless, the spectator may choose one of the contrapuntal voices to mimic - let it be known that his mimesis is one already predetermined, composed to be poylphonically consonant with rudimentary harmonic progressions that resemble a perpetual canon. Like the canon, the citizen sings forever, repetitively, doomed to reproduce a melody that is not his/her own.
What else is there to do as a last resort but to push this perpetual canon to its limits of intelligibility, that is, to push musical harmony to its extreme: that of censorship. In a startling catharsis of repressed jouissance, the medley is put to sudden cadence - interrupted, if you will - by fireworks. This explosion of sound, a carefully controlled dionisiac phenomenon, is less celebration than it is violent explosion. This is always Subjectivity's participation in State Apparatus driven to its end: it always concludes with the violence. What else are fireworks than the ultimate antithesis to ordered harmony, noise itself, absolute unintelligibility? But in this excessiveness of noise (unintelligibility), the individual voice as last means of agency to song is completely eradicated and overpowered. No voice can compete with the thundering silencing effect of complete devastation and destruction. Ironically, fireworks are usually accompanied by Tchaikovsky - an individible remainder of European colonialism, or the suggestion that the machinery that lurks behind this implosion of Self/State is really self-colonialization in process, the grand Singapore Dream not to disrupt the system of colonialization, but to sit at its head seat.
But fireworks are controlled explosions. The disorder that blinds its citizenry turns out to be ordered spectacle. Indeed disorder itself has to be silenced to make way for its final instalment of the ritual: the national pledge. All semblance of melody is effaced, supplanted by the single, mechanistic unision that regurgitates a familiar prose, in rhythm. Counterpoint has collapsed into syllabic repetition (the regimentality of hypermasculinity, perhaps, making a recovery?) at the expense of any last possible harmony. Nobody ever sings the national pledge, it is seen as a mockery, an act of insurbordination. Here, Barthe's "grain of the voice" - the last resource of the individual by means of the body - is totally and completely silenced by State-demanded euphony. The president leaves, and the crowd is dismissed.